My God! What could he have possibly done…?
Not too long ago, Jacqueline Smith woke one morning with a song in her heart.
The song was ‘How Great is Our God’ and the power of it compelled her to do something she hadn’t felt able to do since her youngest son was murdered.
Mrs Smith took out a DVD from a drawer and quietly went into Jason’s bedroom, which looks today much as it did on May 1, the day he was shot dead.
“I was blessed enough that my church had recorded his funeral,” Mrs Smith tells
The Royal Gazette. “I said to myself ‘am I going to be able to watch this?’ I put it in and I sat on the bed.”
The mother-of-three began to watch: to take in the words of the pastor who began the service at First Church of God; to listen to her brother leading the mourners in prayer; to see her 22-year-old son’s coffin, draped in a flag and adorned with his Regiment hat and belt. She explains how she was gripped momentarily with a feeling of guilt because “I couldn’t see him there”.
But then: “The Holy Spirit said to me ‘it’s because he’s not there’. After that, a peace came over me. I praised God and I was able to watch the whole thing.
“I was so glad I did. It showed me the love that he had. So many people expressed how much love he had. He passed all racial barriers. He passed all age barriers.
“To hear that for the first time: the joy that brought me. It let me know that that boy lived more in his 22 years than I’ve lived in my 65.”
Saltus Grammar School graduate Jason, a Bermuda Regiment lance corporal and PHC football player, was gunned down by a masked assailant shortly before 4am on May 1 outside a friend’s home on Overview Hill, Pembroke.
His is the most recent of the 16 gang-related fatal shootings since May 2009 and remains one of 12 that police have yet to solve.
Detectives believe a gang member killed Jason, though they’ve admitted they have no clue why the law-abiding young man was targeted.
Neither have Mrs Smith or Jason’s father Michael, who hasn’t yet been able to watch the DVD of the funeral.
“The police are doing the best they can with what they’ve got,” says Mr Smith. “But they know nothing. Nobody knows.
“He didn’t have enemies. He was the type of person that wouldn’t expect anybody to do anything like that. We had no idea that anything might happen.
“Everyone has people who like them and people who don’t like them. But to go to this extent. My God! What could he have possibly done…?”
Mr Smith stops himself mid-sentence, as though he realises the futility of the question.
No amount of soul-searching or racking of brains can explain to him or his wife why someone would deliberately take their son’s life, before he had the chance to complete his university studies, choose a career, marry or have children of his own.
And others who knew Jason can’t explain it either.
His closest friends insist he would never have become involved in violence or crime and his former Saltus teacher Jon Beard says: “I never found a malicious side to him.
“If anything, you wanted him to be a bit nastier. But he was just a really nice kid to deal with and he was just a lot of fun.”
Mr Smith says of his son’s murder: “It’s so senseless. What can you do? What can you say.”
The 65-year-old taxi driver, not previously a churchgoer, has given his heart to God since his only child died.
He now joins his wife each morning in reading from a book called ‘Jesus Calling’ by Sarah Young. “It has helped to keep us focused on the light,” he explains. “Faith is a big help. I believe that he was saved and he’s gone to a better place and we will see each other again one day.”
Despite the comfort he has found in words from the Bible, grief is still visibly etched on Mr Smith’s face.
He was very close to Jason but admits that in his lowest moments he wonders “if there was something that he perhaps should have mentioned. It might have made a difference”.
Mrs Smith, who has two older children (Kristina Crosby and Anthony Seymour), dismisses that, assuring her husband: “You couldn’t have been any closer.”
She says: “I feel okay. I can get on with life. We have started what I guess I would call a ‘new normal’. I have made a conscious decision and a decree to rejoice and not mourn him.”
Still, to hear the couple puzzle over the mystery of their son’s murder and describe the immense joy he brought into their lives, it’s difficult not to feel intense sorrow for them.
Mrs Smith says she prayed for a third child in her early 40s and was blessed with Jason.
She sees his life as a gift from God and says having to “give him back” is a “small price to pay” to know he is now safe.
“He was only lent to us,” she says, smiling. “People have a tendency to think children are yours, that you own them. You don’t own anyone. We all belong to God.
“My body craves for him, but my spirit is free. If my spirit hurt, I would be crying all the time. I would constantly be totally broken down.”
Instead, she and Mr Smith try to focus on the positives, giving thanks for the support they received from family and friends after Jason’s death and describing his tight-knit group of pals.
“He had a circle of friends that most people don’t enjoy,” said Mr Smith. “I don’t know how he did it. He got to be very close with other people. They, on a one-on-one basis, felt they were his best friends.”
His closest group of friends, all former Saltus students, have joined together to set up an award and foundation in Jason’s memory (see separate story).
Their efforts and the outpouring of love for Jason at his funeral have made his parents very proud.
They are not, they say, the kind of people who want vengeance, though that doesn’t mean they don’t want his murderer to be caught by police.
Mr Smith says: “We would like to see justice, yes. They [police] have told us they believe they will find his killer.”
His wife adds: “We would like to see justice done because if justice is not done, then it will happen to someone else and they may not be able to deal with it as well as we are dealing with it.”
She has already reached out to Kaywell Outerbridge, whose 18-year-old son Malcolm was stabbed to death on October 28.
“I went over to the viewing of the young man, to see Mrs Outerbridge and just to support the family. I didn’t know her [but] Bermuda doesn’t pull together enough to support what happens to these families.
“When I saw Mrs Outerbridge, I saw myself and I saw the faith in her. She had faith that was unbelievable.”
Mr and Mrs Smith have constructive ideas for how Government could better deal with the spiralling gang problem.
He suggests a gun amnesty at least once a year and better support for victims’ families.
“Bermuda falls short, I think, in [terms of] the authorities or whomever,” says Mr Smith.
“Somebody from the Government should come to visit people who have had to endure something like this
“Not everyone is the same. Some people won’t need it. But there will be some who definitely need a shoulder to lean on. Some of them may need counselling. Nobody has come whatsoever in that regard. We did get a letter from the Senate.”
Mrs Smith points out the First Church of God offered her counselling, adding: “ I couldn’t have made it without them.”
But she notes: “Some people don’t have a church that can just come to them.”
She says Government should hire experienced psychologists and psychiatrists to provide free help to those affected by gun violence.
Her husband adds: “It’s too much to ask someone in this situation, who has endured such a tragedy, to go out looking for that. That’s something that should come to you.”
The pair say their hearts go out to the parents of those young men pulling the triggers.
“There are no winners,” says Mrs Smith. “We pray for the mother and the father, relatives, for the child they have lost, but what about the parents of the children who committed the murder?
“The pain if you know your child has done this must be great.”
They couple would even like to see an agency set up where people guilty of or with knowledge of gun crime could go to unburden themselves without fear of the information being used against them and to get counselling.
“Where can you go to in Bermuda? There should be a resource for them that will help make it better for them,” says Mr Smith. “They would get help and, in doing so, the society would get help. They wouldn’t repeat.”
Ideally though, both he and his wife hope those who know something about their son’s murder and the other unsolved shootings will contact police.
“There are people who know those people who are doing these things,” says Mr Smith. “They have an obligation to stop it and do something because they [the victims] are somebody’s child.”